After Sam Horsfield's win in the Celtic Classic on Sunday, the European Tour remains at Celtic Manor for the fifth event of the UK Swing - the Wales Open. Steve Rawlings previews the event here...
"It may be hard to win back-to-back as a rule but we’re witnessing golf in unprecedented times at present and if a fully focused in-form Sam Horsfield lines up on Thursday, he’s most definitely the one they all have to beat."
After a break of six years, the Wales Open makes a welcome return to the European Tour schedule this week as part of its innovative UK Swing.
First staged in 2000 and won by Denmark's Steen Tinning, the Wales Open was staged at this week's venue, the Twenty Ten Couse at Celtic Manor, between 2008 and 2014.
Twenty Ten Course, Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales
Par 71 -7,315 yards
Stroke Index last week - 70.25
The Twenty Ten Course was used for the 2010 Ryder Cup, this event between 2008 and 2014 and for last week's Celtic Classic - won by Sam Horsfield.
Designed by Ross McMurray of European Golf Design, the Twenty Ten course is an amalgamation of nine new holes and nine holes from the old Robert Trent Jones II designed Wentworth Hills course. It winds its way around the River Usk and water is in play on 10 holes.
It's a long, flat and exposed course and given it was designed specifically for match play golf it's perhaps not completely surprising that those playing it in stroke play format aren't too enamoured by it.
It's a varied course, with a links feel for the first third. The lakes are a feature throughout the middle section but until you reach the tough 12th, there are chances to score around the turn. After that, it's a tough finish. The drivable par four 15th offers a great chance to pick up a birdie or eagle but it also caused plenty of carnage last week.
Be careful with the hole averages. As the course was built for match play there are plenty of tees to choose from and the holes can vary greatly from round to round. The organisers used to have a habit of moving tees quite markedly here and a hole that plays easy one day can be a brute the next. The par 5 finishing hole for example is reachable in two one day and a challenge in three strokes the next.
Although scoring was pretty good last week, I can see it playing slightly tougher this week and four of the last six Wales Open winners at the Twenty Ten Course were all in single digits under-par.
Live on Sky Sports from 13:30 on Thursday
Last Week's Celtic Classic Result
1st Sam Horsfield -18
2nd Thomas Detry -16
T3rd Thomas Pieters -15
T3rd Andrew Johnston -15
T3rd Connor Syme -15
Wales Open Winners at the Twenty Ten Course
2014 - Joost Luiten -14
2013 - Gregory Bourdy -8
2012 - Thongchai Jaidee -6
2011 - Alex Noren -9
2010 - Graeme McDowell -15
2009 - Jeppe Huldahl -9
2008 - Scott Strange -22
What Will it Take to Win the Wales Open?
Looking back at last week's Celtic Classic and the seven editions of the Wales Open staged here, length off the tee is fairly irrelevant. Alex Noren ranked first for Driving Distance when he won here in 2011 but every other winner has ranked 35th or worse and including Noren, the average DD ranking of the seven Wales Open winners is only 36.4. Take him out and it drops to 42.33.
Noren is also the only winner to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy (ranked ninth) and the average DA ranking of the seven Wales Open winners is 24.
Horsfield did nothing to suggest driving is of any sort of importance last week. He ranked 66th for Driving Distance and 54th for Driving Accuracy.
Denmark's Jeppe Huldahl was a strange winner at a huge price. He managed to win in 2009 ranking 37th for DD, 53rd for DA, and only 17th for Greens In Regulation. Gregory Bourdy, who ranked 27th for GIR, is the only other Wales Open winner not to rank inside the top-ten for GIR and Horsfield ranked 12th for GIR so that's been a key stat.
Huldahl was deadly on and around the greens. Like four other Wales Open winners, he ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling and he had a Putting Average ranking of sixth. The seven Wales Open winners here had an average PA ranking of 11.28 and Horsfield ranked 15th last week. He ranked 11th for Scrambling.
Is There an Angle In?
There are too many examples of players performing well here and at Le Golf National in Paris for it to be a coincidence. Graeme McDowell, Thongchai Jaidee and Alex Noren have won here and the Open de France in Paris for starters. The 2017 Open de France winner, Tommy Fleetwood, finished second to Joost Luiten here in 2014 and Peter Uihlein has finished runner-up at both venues.
Francesco Molinari, twice a runner-up in Paris, finished fourth here on debut and last year's surprise Open de France winner, Nicolas Colsaerts, has only played the Twenty Ten Course twice. He finished 12th on debut in 2010 and was fourth behind Luiten in 2014.
Analysing the form at Le Golf National looks like a great place to start.
G-Mac shot weekend rounds of 64-63 to win from a long way back ten years ago. He sat tied for 63rd and seven adrift after round one and he was still six back and tied 27th at halfway.
Huldahl was trailing at the 36 hole mark too. He sat tied 29th and five off the lead but they're the only two Wales Open winners to be outside the top-four places at halfway and five of the seven Wales Open winners here have been leading or tied for the lead with a round to go. Horsfield was in front at halfway last week and he trailed by a stroke with a round to go. Celtic Manor looks like a decent venue for frontrunners.
After his tied third last week, Thomas Pieters is the narrow favourite over the man that beat him, Sam Horsfield, but I'm not sure that's correct.
Pieters was matched at [1.79] during round three last week, before he made a triple-bogey seven at the drivable par four 15th, but even without that mistake he may well have contrived to find a way of getting beat. Pieters trod water after that mistake and he actually birdied the last four holes when in with no chance of victory to climb up into a tie for third.
He's a fabulous talent but he's hard to get across the line and I much prefer the odds about Horsfield, who was superb in-contention again last week.
Horsfield missed the cut at the English Championship after winning the Hero Open three weeks ago but I'd be very surprised if that happens again after Sunday's victory. There's a big difference between winning your first title and your second and I suspect the celebrations have been more muted this time around. It may be hard to win back-to-back as a rule but we're witnessing golf in unprecedented times at present and if a fully focused in-form Sam Horsfield lines up on Thursday, he's most definitely the one they all have to beat.
Haotong Li is an interesting runner after his phenomenal performance at the US PGA Championship, where he eventually finished 17th having led at halfway but he may need time to recover from that gruelling event and the same can be said of Scotland's Robert MacIntyre who finished tied for 66th at Harding Park.
I've had a tiny bet on one of last week's picks in the Celtic Classic - Alexander Bjork. He started slowly last week but improved over the weekend to finish 27th and if they set it up slightly tougher that should be in his favour. He's no bigger than 40/1 on the High Street so [48.0] looks fair and I've also had a reasonable bet on Sam Horsfield at [16.0].
The Englishman has been very impressive when winning two of the last three tournaments and I really can't see why he isn't a shorter. I thought he'd be around 10/1.
Sam Horsfield @ [16.0]
Alexander Bjork @ [48.0]
I'll be back tomorrow with my Northern Trust preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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